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Transforming Subjectivities: Service that Expands Learning in Urban Planning

Harris, Susan C.; Irazabal Zurita, Clara E.

In a recent service-learning course we taught at the University of Southern California (USC), our goal was the 'transformation of subjectivity", as students traversed their own paths from students to professionals, learners to doers and coeducators, and from experts to collaborators. Our intent was to minimize the boundaries separating classroom and community. We encouraged students to bridge the gap between disciplines (urban planning, public policy, public management, public administration, and real estate) and sought to help them become collaborative and socially responsible professionals. We also tried to change the role that community partners usually play in service-learning partnership. Many public agencies and nonprofit organizations welcome the assistance of students but do not see themselves as educators. We entered each partnership with the goal of becoming coeducators with them. Students were also made explicitly responsible for coeducating their peers on the different project areas they were working on, as they needed to give updates to the rest of the class throughout the semester and their grades were partially assigned by their peers. The transformation of student identities or subjectivities was a central objective of both the service-learning instructors and providers. It was also a major factor in our methodology. We used student evaluations to assess the value of service-learning experiences, and the evaluations were basically a test of whether the transformation we hoped for actually occurred. We used student journals, interviews with community partners, course evaluations, and other course documents to assess this change. As a result of our experience, we offer practical suggestions to urban planning faculty and others who are interested in developing meaningful, sustainable service-learning partnerships that minimize the boundaries between campus and community, student and professional, learner and educator, expert and collaborator, and academic and practitioner. We suggest a pathway to service-learning experiences that can transform the subjectivities of all those involved.

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Also Published In

Service-Learning in Design and Planning: Educating at the Boundaries
New Village Press

More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Published Here
January 14, 2015